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Obituary

Dietrich Mateschitz obituary: Red Bull co-founder dies aged 78

Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz, who has died at the age of 78, made an extraordinary impact across the world of motor sport, and not just in Formula 1.

Dietrich Mateschitz

His Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri teams and the Red Bull Ring circuit in Austria are just the highest profile examples. However along the twin F1 teams Mateschitz made a huge contribution in many other forms of motor sport, from MotoGP to NASCAR. He gave a chance to dozens of young drivers, many of whom would not have progressed without Red Bull backing.

Mateschitz was born in Styria in May 1944 during World War 2, the son of two primary school teachers. After obtaining a marketing degree aged 28 in 1972 – he had somehow managed to stretch his stint as a Vienna University student to a decade – he joined Unilever, initially promoting detergents. He then moved to the Blendax cosmetics company, where his products included toothpaste.

It was while travelling on business in Asia that he by chance discovered the tonic drink that he would eventually launch in Europe as Red Bull, having founded the company with that name in 1984 in partnership with Thai businessman and Blendax associate Chaleo Yoovidhya. His initial investment was $500,000.

From the very early days Mateschitz believed in using motor racing and extreme sports as promotional tools. His first link with F1 came via a personal deal with Gerhard Berger, and then in 1995 he began an association with the Sauber team, eventually acquiring 60% of the Swiss organisation. In the first year Heinz-Harald Frentzen earned the team’s maiden podium with third place at Monza.

Drivers who passed through Sauber during the Red Bull era included Johnny Herbert, Jean Alesi, Mika Salo, Nick Heidfeld, Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa.

In parallel with Sauber Mateschitz also backed drivers in junior categories, initially through a relationship with F3000/F3 team owner Helmut Marko, who would later become his main motor sporting advisor and guru.

Team boss Peter Sauber had a falling out with Mateschitz after hiring Formula Renault driver Kimi Raikkonen for 2001, ignoring the sponsor’s preferred choice of his protégé, Enrique Bernoldi. Red Bull duly helped the Brazilian to get a seat with Arrows.

Mateschitz's Red Bull was a key backer of Sauber in the late 90s and early 2000s

Mateschitz's Red Bull was a key backer of Sauber in the late 90s and early 2000s

Photo by: Sutton Images

Mateschitz also backed Christian Klien, another of his proteges, at Jaguar in 2004. The relationship developed in an unexpected direction when at the end of the year the Ford Motor Company wanted to offload the Milton Keynes team and pull out of the sport – and Mateschitz was only too happy to take it over for a nominal sum, while at the same time parting ways with Sauber.

In an inspired move he and Marko headhunted Arden F3000 boss Christian Horner to run the team, while hiring David Coulthard to join former Jaguar driver Mark Webber in the line-up. Just a year later Mateschitz also acquired the struggling Minardi team, renaming it Scuderia Toro Rosso. The general idea was to use it to develop young drivers for RBR.

In its initial guise RBR was little more than a rebadged Jaguar team, complete with Cosworth engines. However Horner proved to be a very effective leader and set about changing the culture. At the end of 2005 with Mateschitz’s backing he persuaded Adrian Newey to join as technical director – setting in motion an extraordinary turnaround in fortunes.

It wasn’t immediate, but after a difficult single year with Ferrari engines in 2006 the team made progress with Newey’s first proper Renault-powered car in 2007. The other key ingredient was Sebastian Vettel. Backed by Mateschitz from his karting days the young German joined Toro Rosso in the latter part of 2007, before scoring a memorable victory at Monza the following year.

The Faenza team may have beaten RBR to the first win, but with Vettel on board in 2009 the senior outfit became a title contender, jumping from seventh place to runner-up in the constructors’ championship. Vettel won four races, and Webber scored two further victories.

It was the start of an astonishing era of success as Vettel won four titles on the bounce in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, with the team taking the constructors’ version. Mateschitz’s vision was fulfilled, and his faith in Horner and Newey repaid in full.

In 2014 the sport switched to V6 hybrid engines, and Red Bull was let down by poor engines from partner Renault, straining an already difficult partnership. Daniel Ricciardo still managed to win three races with the difficult RB10, but before the end of the year a frustrated Vettel signed for Ferrari.

After buying out Jaguar, Mateschitz installed Christian Horner as team principal at Red Bull Racing

After buying out Jaguar, Mateschitz installed Christian Horner as team principal at Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Al Staley / Motorsport Images

He’d lost his talisman, but Mateschitz soon replaced him with another, having been convinced to give 17-year-old Max Verstappen – who had not come through the ranks as a Red Bull driver – a Toro Rosso seat for 2015. The Dutchman made an immediate impact, and having been switched to RBR early in 2016, he won his first race in Spain.

As the Renault relationship deteriorated further Horner and Marko began looking at other engine options. They persuaded Mateschitz that Honda was a viable option, despite the Japanese marque’s struggles with McLaren. It was a huge gamble, but the company was able to use Toro Rosso to in effect trial the Honda in 2018. After an encouraging season RBR also switched across in 2019.

Another piece of history was made when Verstappen gave Honda its first win of the hybrid era in Austria, at the former A1 Ring track that Mateschitz had bought and, after some early delays, completely rebuilt. It was one of the greatest days in the history of the Red Bull organisation.

Verstappen won two more races that year and continued to build momentum with more wins in 2020, before securing his first title – and the fifth for a Red Bull driver – on the very last lap of the controversial Abu Dhabi GP. Ironically it was achieved on the eve of Honda’s official withdrawal at the end of the season.

Horner and Marko had by then persuaded Honda to continue to supply the team, but they had other long-term plans. In what was one of his last major strategic decisions Mateschitz approved the creation of Red Bull Powertrains with a view to creating an engine for the 2026 regulations. The hope was to form a partnership with Porsche, but the deal collapsed a few weeks ago.

Outside motor sport Mateschitz backed athletes across dozens of other sports, started his own Servus TV channel, and indulged in his passion for aviation with an impressive collection of vintage aircraft, some of which were regularly demonstrated at the Austrian GP meeting.

Despite his huge success in business and in sport Mateschitz remained an essentially private man, rarely talking to the media other than a few close associates in his home country.

Dietrich Mateschitz, 1944-2022

Dietrich Mateschitz, 1944-2022

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

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